Friday, January 13, 2012

Words on a Page


This has been an exciting, if bittersweet, week. Author John Green's newest novel, "The Fault in Our Stars" arrived in bookstores and it is an amazing book! It is also dedicated to our Esther! Last Tuesday night, he and his brother Hank kicked off the book tour here in Boston. However, I couldn't wait until that evening to see the book so I went to a local bookstore earlier in the day just to check it out. I picked it off the shelf and turned to the dedication page. There it was in blocks: TO ESTHER EARL. I surprised myself by rubbing my fingers across her name and then the quiet sobs began. I put the book down and caught my breath. Returning to the page caused me to cry again so I quickly set my wet face into the book to hide. Then I thought, "Great, you've just slimed this beautiful book with your salty tears and oily skin. Now you're gonna have to buy it!"

I knew about the dedication beforehand but didn't realize he'd put the rest of our family on the Acknowledgement page! When I saw John later that night I told him that wasn't necessary to which he replied, "On the contrary, very much so." I reminded him that, in the beginning, Lori and I found it a little strange how much Esther adored him. She had decided that she wanted him to be a big part of her Make-A-Wish event and so we had contacted him. He accepted on the spot and even payed all expenses for two additional friends of Esther to attend! At the same time, I had been watching the most recent Dr Who episodes on TV with Esther. I wanted to know why the doctor appealed to her. He was, after all, literally an alien, an other-worldly, god-like figure who chose feisty and interesting human beings to accompany him on his ongoing mission to save the universe. As the last of his kind, he especially enjoyed the companionship of humans and I found him to be endearing, and terribly fascinating, though an ultimately unknowable and unattainable person. But his vulnerability struck me, too, as he was incomplete in himself and needed others to assist him.  And then one day it struck me, John Green was Esther's Dr Who! He had taken her away and she, and he, were the better for the adventure. At that our first meeting, I told John this.

As I held the book, I thought about the power of words and other images that we construct in order to portray our vision (Are words and images different, ultimately, anyway?). How do some words upon words (stories) combine to inspire and move their readers? The words I touched in this book seem to have come alive like so many genies freed from their lamps. They humor, and challenge, and wound me. Will I be better for having known them, for having kept them close and will they stay with me, finally, even as I shut them away? Two decades ago, existential psychologist Rollo May said, "There can be no stronger proof of the impoverishment of our contemporary culture than the popular – though profoundly mistaken definition of myth as falsehood" (The Cry for Myth, 1991). It's still true today. Words in a story can possess a mythical quality. A story is based in part on the author's experience and imagination and the story's words change in some ways as the reader handles them. I am speaking of novels, yes, but it's also true of non-fiction, for biography and history are a writer's attempt to recreate a past which even a photograph does not render with complete accuracy! Anyway, this is all old stuff, I know, but standing in that bookstore reminded me that what's mixed in (made up, added, false, myth-like) can often be the source of the deepest things.

So, take up John's book and read! We have now purchased six books and I'm sure many more will follow. My family is in the book for goodness' sake! At John's urging on Tuesday night, the Boston Nerdfighting community gave us an awesome and thunderous applause. Esther would have been embarrassed but would have loved it, too! She had always been a role model and was learning to carry her impact to a larger audience with the poise that had marked her, the grace that had been her middle name. Referring to Esther, John said, "Imagine that. An empathetic teenager." Just so many words on page, you say? Well, call me crazy, but I am convinced that we now have among us two additional flesh and blood, real-life heroes, a certain Hazel Grace and one Augustus Waters.

Which brings me to the last of my many words, which I now gratefully dedicate to John Green, my friend, and someone who is definitely from the stars above, a gift to us all.

TFiOS ~by John Green

6 comments:

  1. I stumbled upon Esther's story and John Green's books via my 17 year old daughter, Brett, who was born 8.17.94, only shortly after Esther. We both emailed your wife, telling her how much Esther's video's, and her writings etc., had effected us. But this week, we too bought the book, and Brett read it, crying multiple times. I asked her why she cried -- was it just the book or was it more? She said "I just can't imagine what her parents have gone through. She seemed like she was such an awesome amazing person, and I wish I had the chance to know her." My daughter is a HUGE Dr. Who fan, and many of Esther's likes are similar to Brett's. Thank you for sharing your daughter with us. Know that she continues to make a difference in this life, still, though she is not physically here with us. I have four daughters, 20, 17, 14, and 6, and they also mean the world to me. I enjoy your blogs and hope to continue to read them. I plan to read the book tonight with a great wad of tissues. Know that Esther lives on in our family -- and we never had the honor of meeting her!

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    1. You are very kind and your daughter sounds amazing! Anyone who loves the doctor and John Green is a pretty cool kid. I used to say (often) to Esther that I could not imagine life without her. I'd say, "What will I do if you leave us? How will we go on?" And now we are here, and she is not with us. I had heard of this land called grief and it is not so different than what I'd been told... I suppose there is a strange comfort in that. The only thing I know is that love is deeper than any sadness.

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  2. Words are incredibly powerful.
    I can not wait till my copy arrives.
    Please continue to blog. Your eloquence inspires.

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    1. You have moved me to smile... inside and out!

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  3. So I'm sat here, listening to my audio-book of The Fault in Our Stars, reading your blog post and crying. I wish I had known Esther. We have similar likes and interests, we're about the same age and it sounds like she was a really lovely girl.
    I knew a boy who was a few years older than me. He was called Jamie. He loved Doctor Who like I do and Esther did. In a way, he was my Augustus Waters except we never got to that. I have one vivid memory of sitting with him and his friends, at a party, at some old, decaying pub, holding his hand. I hope that I can again feel like I did in that moment. He died on the 24th June 2010 in a freak accident on his bike. It was no-one's fault and he died instantly. I still miss him.

    This post about Esther reminded me of him, as TFiOS does too and I just wanted to say thank you. Because I don't want to imagine or ever experience what you have gone through and yet, the way you talk about Esther is so admirable and inspiration it's just, wow. Honestly thank you so much just for taking the time to write this blog post. I am so sorry that you lost Esther but I trust that she's looking down on you, smiling (in between watching Doctor Who episodes of course)

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    1. I loved watching the doctor with Esther. If he's out there, she's with him! Thank you for sharing your story. Your young pub friend, Jaime, was very lucky for having held the hand of someone like you. ~Wayne

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